Safe Travel Tips for Families
By Yuliya Bilan Yu, CRNP
With winter ending soon, many families are starting to make travel plans for this spring and summer. We hope that you find the following information helpful in making your family’s trip healthy and enjoyable.
When Making Travel Plans, Make Sure Your Child’s Vaccines Are Up to Date
Whether you are planning to travel domestically or internationally, make sure your child’s immunizations are all up to date. The flu vaccine is highly recommended for everyone ages 6 month and up, regardless of whether you are staying home or traveling during the flu season, which can go on as late as April or May. Families traveling internationally often need additional vaccines depending on the country they plan to visit.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website (www.cdc.gov/travel) has comprehensive health and safety information for travelers, with an option to customize the advice depending where you are going and what kind of traveler you are. Let’s say you are planning a family vacation to Mexico. Some travelers will need a typhoid vaccine, depending on your risk of encountering contaminated food and water. The typhoid vaccine is not part of the routine vaccinations given in the U.S., but it can be obtained at a pharmacy with a prescription and brought to our office for administration. Other vaccines that are routine for children in the U.S. are recommended to be given at an earlier age for international travel. While we routinely give the first dose of the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine at 12 months and the Hepatitis A vaccine at 18 months, both can be safely given to babies starting at 6 months in cases of international travel. Please let us know at least a month ahead about your travel plans so we can make sure your child has all of the vaccines he or she needs and enough time to develop immunity from them before you leave the country.
Some international itineraries might also have an increased risk of malaria. Call us at least a month before departure with your specific itinerary, so we can prescribe malaria pills, if needed. Other mosquito-borne diseases, such as Zika, West Nile, Chikungunya, and Dengue Fever cannot be prevented with prophylactic medication or vaccination, so avoidance of mosquito bites is the best prevention.
Reduce the Risk of Infection from Insect Bites
Insects such as ticks, fleas, and mosquitos may spread diseases to travelers and outdoor adventurers. For protection against both ticks and mosquitos, use an insect repellent with at least 20% DEET. It is safe to use insect repellants with up to 30% DEET for children. The youngest age to use DEET repellents is 2 months, but alternative measures such as covering the stroller with a mosquito net and having the baby wear long-sleeved clothes also helps reduce risk. To apply insect repellent on babies and young children, spray it on your hands first and then rub on the child’s skin. You may also spray the repellent on clothes before putting them on but make sure to cover exposed skin as well. The higher the percentage of DEET, the longer the protection lasts, but when possible, choose the lowest percentage and wash it off after coming back indoors. DEET-free alternatives include insect repellents with Picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or Para-menthane-diol (PMD), as active ingredients. For even greater protection from insects while outdoors, items such as boots, pants, socks, backpacks and tents can be pre-treated with permethrin; however, it does not go on the skin. Regardless of the product(s) you choose for your family, make sure to read all label information and use them as directed.
To reduce the risk of infection after an insect bite occurs, clean the area with soap and water and apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to reduce itching. Keep children’s nails short to reduce scratching and if needed, put socks or mittens on young children’s hands at night. Check the entire body for ticks after an outdoor activity and remove the ticks prompty. The CDC website has great instructions on how to remove a tick properly: https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/removing_a_tick.html. It is normal to have some small, localized swelling or redness at an area of the insect bite initially, but if it seems to be getting worse after a few days or is accompanied by a fever or flu-like symptoms, call for us for advice or seek care at a local medical facility while traveling abroad.
Pack Appropriate Medications and Supplies
When traveling, even if you are just going a few hours away to the shore or the Poconos, remember to pack appropriate medications or supplies, especially if there’s no pharmacy nearby. If your child has emergency medications, such as asthma inhalers or EpiPens, make sure you have enough, and they are not expired. It is also a good idea to pack “just-in-case” children’s medications that might not be readily available where you go, such as children’s Tylenol or Motrin/Advil, Benadryl, Pedialyte packets to be added to clean water, first aid kit for scrapes and cuts, and diaper rash cream.
Thorough handwashing is one of the best ways to help reduce the spread of infection, but consider also packing hand sanitizing wipes just in case adequate facilities are not available. You may also want to call your health insurance company and find out if they offer travel coverage, in case your child needs to see a doctor for an urgent medical issue while away, or consider getting travel insurance. Traveling with children requires a lot of planning, but getting a head start and being prepared will go a long way in helping ensure that everyone has a happy and healthy family vacation.
The above information is meant as educational and does not substitute medical advice. If you have any specific questions about your child’s situation, please give us a call.